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An interview with Ryan Breymaier on his plans for a 2024 Vendee Globe campaign

by David Schmidt 1 Feb 08:00 PST February 1, 2021
Skipper Ryan Breymaier driving Lending Club 2 on San Francisco Bay in June 2015 © David Schmidt

The ink may not yet be dry on the results page for the 2020/2021 Vendee Globe, but that certainly doesn't mean that other talented and highly qualified sailors aren't already looking ahead to the 2024/2025 edition of this storied solo around-the-world race. One such skipper is Ryan Breymaier, an American who has been around high-level offshore sailing since his days at St. Mary's College, and who has long aspired to compete in this storied race.

Breymaier's name is likely familiar to many readers who have followed distance racing. While his accomplishments are impressive and varied, he's likely best known for his all-conquering campaign aboard the VPLP-designed maxi trimaran Lending Club (now called IDEC SPORT) in 2015.

Unlike other Americans who have eyed—or completed—the Vendee Globe, Breymaier has long lived in France, where he has deeply immersed himself in the IMOCA class, and where he has been instrumental in helping other skippers achieve offshore success. Moreover, he intimately knows the French offshore sailing culture and what it takes to build and prepare an IMOCA 60 for a solo around-the-world adventure.

While securing funding and a solid sponsor for this grueling race isn't easy, especially as an American, Breymaier recently reached out to some of his friends in the sailing industry stating his intention to be on the starting line of the 2024/2025 Vendee Globe in a next-generation foiling IMOCA 60. Wisely, he has given himself a time budget of nine months to find the right sponsor(s) for this long-held goal.

I checked in with Breymaier, via email and a WhatsApp voice call, to learn more about what it's like to be taking the nascent steps towards what will hopefully prove to be a journey of a lifetime.

Can you tell us how a project like this is commercially viable to a sponsor?

Sailing sponsorship provides return in several different ways for the sponsor.

The classic is media ROI, the same mechanism [that] convinces a company to pay to put their name on a stadium, racetrack barrier, or sports team jersey. While sailing might not be a big sport in the USA, in France this race is one of the best-known sporting events and generates more media attention (calculated with media credits) than the Tour de France bike race.

This can then be coupled with more-difficult-to-quantify-but-still-positive returns, such as:

—Alignment with sailing values such as adventure, determination and independence; —Employee solidarity and engagement around the project;

—Business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing opportunities created around the project and races;

—And last but certainly not least, the ability to create an amazing VIP experience with the boat itself. How many VIP clients or employees get to ride in a Formula One car?

What kind of return on investment is reasonable for a sponsor to expect?

In the context of the IMOCA [class], media returns are reported as being on the order of 10-20:1 or sometimes a bit more, meaning for a $5M investment, equivalent media value of $50-100M can be expected.

This is measured in media impressions. Actual revenue generation can occur, but it's more difficult to measure.

For example, Maserati sponsors a record-breaking trimaran, and in between events they do quite a lot of PR days with clients sailing on the boat and test-driving cars. When the client buys a car after these events, the revenue can be attributed to the project, but not every company is selling Maseratis!

More common [ returns] would be strategic trade deals and finding new sources of investment with VIP guests who have had a day out on the yacht, or one company's VIPs being in close proximity to VIPs of another [company] at race starts, finding common ground around the project and also between their business interests.

Last would be the public who are fans reaching for the product who's branding they see on their favorite yacht over the [company's] competitors [branding, which] they do not see [on an IMOCA 60].

Do you feel that you'd need to secure podium finish to secure a sponsor's ROI?

Absolutely not.

In any mechanical sport, breakdowns or accidents can put a team out of the running at any time, crushing the chance to produce a good finish or ROI. ]

This fact means that in order to do justice to the sponsor's investment, ROI has to occur outside the context of the race itself, using the mechanisms [mentioned] above.

In your ideal world, what kind of sponsor company would you like to partner with? What kind of core values would the company hold, and how do you see these values aligning with your worldview?

The kind of company that gets involved with a sailing sponsorship is one that shows itself to be forward-thinking, creative, independent, and resilient. The happy coincidence is that these are values that I hold dear personally. They also would be signing up because they recognize the commercial value of such a project, which is the part of the project [that's] most important to me. It is a natural fit.

Do you envision your campaign helping to raise environmental awareness? If so, does this present opportunities for a green-minded company to help get their message across? If so, how?

Each sponsor has their own agenda when it comes to choosing where they put their dollars. If part of that agenda is to raise environmental awareness, then a sailing project can be tailored to that goal.

Obviously, this is best suited to certain sectors of environmentalism, ocean health, and climate change come to mind, but that is the beauty of a sailing sponsorship—the project and billboard are capable of carrying most any message successfully, and the typical reach of such a project is a varied and diverse audience, ranging from the student to the professional, the adventurer to the engineer, the geek to the dreamer, and many in between.

The Vendee Globe is massively popular in France, but few Americans—outside of sailing circles—have heard of it. What kinds of challenges and opportunities does this present to a sponsor company that operates in North American markets?

A sponsor operating only in North America would show themselves to be audacious, creative and likely would be trying to expand into the European market in order to get involved in IMOCA sailing simply for media return.

The more intangible positives listed above could be heavily leaned upon to create ROI "at home", but the classic media return will be predominantly European. They would undoubtedly create more exposure for themselves in a massive affluent European market just through the fact that they are involved in the IMOCA [class], and all publicity is good publicity.

Realistically, what kind of budget will be required to design and build a cutting-edge IMOCA 60 for the 2024 Vendee Globe? Also, how much would this budget increase if you were to also race the boat in an upcoming edition of The Ocean Race?

In U.S. dollars, $7M to build the boat, which ideally would launch fall next year, then $5M more through the [end of the 2024/2025] Vendee Globe. After, another $4-5m would be needed to do The Ocean Race as it is an expensive proposition with all the logistics around the stopovers, plus the expense of a full crew.

One way to reduce the budget is to split it up- either through having two or possibly three main sponsors, or by finding investors to build the yacht, and a sponsor to cover the running costs.

Would you entertain a situation of multiple high-level sponsors? Or, does this amount to a situation akin of having too many navigators in the nav station?

As long as they have complementary interests, two or perhaps even three sponsors would work just fine. In the past, sponsors have come forward and suggested other brands they work with and who would also fit as part of the campaign.

The most important [thing] is keeping open communication with everyone involved and working together to ensure [that] all parties have a fair amount of airtime and exposure.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

Finding these types of opportunities does not happen through cold calling. It happens through personal relationships with decision makers. I am all ears if any [Sail-World] readers can make an introduction or get their company involved.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch at www.breymaiersailing.com/contact!

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